Since the European elections last month, we’ve been talking to politicians and journalists to get their views on how the vote went in different EU countries. We’ve already published interviews looking at the election results in the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Greece. Today, we’ll be looking at France.
The shock result in France, of course, was the Front National receiving almost 25% of the vote – giving them 24 out of France’s 74 seats in the European Parliament. An impressive increase compared to the three seats they won in 2009. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party of President François Hollande, the centre-right opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), and the French Greens all came off badly.
Why did the Front National do so well? And will they be able to reproduce these results in a national election? We recently spoke about the results with François Beaudonnet, a French journalist working as Brussels correspondent for France 2. Why does he think the Front National did so well?
I think it was easy for people to vote for the Front National because it doesn’t have a direct impact on their daily lives. Europe is seen as very far away and, in any case, they know that Eurosceptic parties won’t have a majority in the European Parliament. It was a way of showing that they don’t agree with the general evolution of Europe today, and it was a vote against the elites… People saw financial scandals, they saw elites behaving badly, and so they said: “That’s enough”. In addition, the Front National has never been in power in France, so French voters thought: “Why not?” The Front National also has a much clearer identity compared to other mainstream political parties.
We also asked him if he thinks the Front National will be able to reproduce these results in a national election. In the 2012 elections, the Front National gained two seats (out of 577) in the French National Assembly. The next presidential and legislative elections in France are scheduled for 2017. Could we see President Le Pen?
No, I don’t think so. It will be very different. Again, people thought they were allowed to vote Front National because it was a European election and would send a strong message but wouldn’t have a real impact. We will not have the same result at the national level, so there is no possibility of a French president coming from the Front National. I think we’re not there yet. Of course, if the French political situation keeps on deteriorating then the situation at the national level might be different in a few years. But, for the moment, I don’t think this vote can be reproduced at the national level. They are two different things.
What can mainstream parties do to fight back? Is immigration the number one issue for voters in France today? We asked Francois Beaudonnet if he thinks that a tougher approach to migration from the government could stop the rise of the Front National:
I don’t know if this would be enough… I think the solution to the rise of the Front National is to give French people back their joy of being French. Currently, there is an incredible sense of pessimism in France among politicians and citizens that feeds into the support for Front National. I do not see this pessimism in other European countries, apart from maybe in Greece. And this is crazy! France has incredible qualities and assets. The day when a party comes to the stage who will be able to give hope back to French citizens, and show that France can stop losing jobs, losing ground, and that France can be a winning country – this will be when the Front National starts losing ground. I think this is the solution. It’s not all about immigration; among the 25% that voted for the Front National in France, not everybody is absolutely against immigration.
Finally, we wanted to know what issues were covered in France during the election campaign. What was the political discussion like in the weeks before the elections? Was there mention of the future of Europe, or were the parties more focused on immigration and the economy?
Immigration was one of the issues but it was not the main issue. The general feeling during the campaign was very anti-European; the political discourse was around the fact that Europe deals too much with minor things and not enough with important issues. It was said, for instance, that there are too many silly regulations on the size of cucumbers and tomatoes and not enough attention being paid to what’s happening in Ukraine. This kind of argument was very much present and all parties said more or less the same thing on that. The economy and the euro were important campaign subjects as well. Actually, the big themes of the campaign were dictated by the Front National; since the night of the municipal elections (the last elections before the European vote) Marine Le Pen has started talking about Europe. The other parties followed.
Why did the Front National doing so well in France? What can mainstream parties do to convince voters to return? Will the FN be able to replicate their success in the national elections in 2017? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions!